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Who Killed Esav? – Parshas Vayechi 5770

Posted by Rabbi Yosef Tropper
January 1st, 2010
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“…ידך בעורף אוֹיְבֶיך…” (מח:ח).

“Yehuda… your hand is on your enemy’s neck…” (48:8).

I have always found the words of Yaakov’s last blessings to his children to be very fascinating. Yehuda is given acknowledgment of his hand which attacks his enemy’s neck! What is the significance? Why is this something that deserves recognition?

There are three opinions in Chazal as to who killed Esav.

1- The Gemara Sotah (13a) states that Chushim ben Dan killed Esav at the time when Yaakov was being buried.

2- Yalkut Shimoni quotes a Chazal that states that Yaakov himself killed Esav with an arrow!

3- Midrash states that Yehuda saw that Esav was conspiring to kill Yaakov as he went into Ma’aras HaMachpeila to bury Yitzchok, and so Yehuda ran in and killed Esav from behind. Hence, the words of our verse, “your hand is against your enemy’s neck”. (See Tosfos Gittin 55b).

Considering that Esav represents the Evil Inclination in this world, I believe that we can gain much insight by analyzing the three modes of how Esav was conquered in order to shed light on how we too can conquer the evil urge!

1- The opinion that Chushim killed Esav is most famous. Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz learns a tremendous lesson from this. He says that it is very significant that Chushim was hearing-impaired. The people present started to negotiate with Esav who was refusing to allow Yaakov to be buried. However, Chushim didn’t get involved in a discussion. He saw that his grandfather’s funeral was being disrupted in a disrespectful manner and that Esav was the cause and so he acted immediately and killed him. The Yetzer Hara deserves no attention or discussion, when we see the proper course of action necessary, we must work fast to act upon it! The fact that it was done by decapitation will be discussed later.

2- Yaakov by means of an arrow. An arrow is a way of attacking one’s enemy without letting them get near. This is how to fight the Yetzer Hara, nip him in the bud and keep him far away!

3- Yehuda from behind. The face is the master communicator. From our faces we express our feelings and emotions and give respect where it is due. It is most disrespectful to turn one’s neck upon someone trying to talk with you. It powerfully expresses: ‘I do not respect or wish to interact with you’. The neck represents stubbornness and ego. Esav spent his life “turning his back to Hashem and truth”, he didn’t want to hear anything!

Additionally, the head contains the brain which is where man knows the truth intellectually. The body contains the heart. The heart is hot and full of passion. It is the personal desires of mankind. Our job is to connect the head (knowledge) to the body (action). The part which is in between is the neck, that is the area of freewill! This is why Esav was specifically killed from behind upon the neck and by separation of his head from his body. That is how he lived his life, not connecting his knowledge to his action.

Let us take the lesson which Yaakov felt worthy of noting when blessing his son!


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  1. rafi
    January 4th, 2010 at 15:14 | #1

    Awesome! Really perceptive, well- written and very practical and down to earth. Keep it up! Thanks for the Chizuk!

    Reply to rafi

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